Citizen Kane (1941)

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The fresh, sophisticated, and classic masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941), is probably the world's most famous and highly-rated film, with its many remarkable scenes and performances, cinematic and narrative techniques and experimental innovations (in photography, editing, and sound). Its director, star, and producer were all the same genius individual - Orson Welles (in his film debut at age 25!), who collaborated with Herman J. Mankiewicz on the script (and also with an uncredited John Houseman), and with Gregg Toland as his talented cinematographer. [The amount of each person's contributions to the screenplay has been the subject of great debate over many decades.] Toland's camera work on Karl Freund's expressionistic horror film Mad Love (1935) exerted a profound influence on this film.

The film, budgeted at $800,000, received unanimous critical praise even at the time of its release, although it was not a commercial success (partly due to its limited distribution and delayed release by RKO due to pressure exerted by famous publisher W.R. Hearst) - until it was re-released after World War II, found well-deserved (but delayed) recognition in Europe, and then played on television.

The film engendered controversy (and efforts at suppression in early 1941 and efforts at suppression in early 1941 through intimidation, blackmail, newspaper smears, discrediting and FBI investigations) before it premiered in New York City on May 1, 1941, because it appeared to fictionalize and caricaturize certain events and individuals in the life of William Randolph Hearst - a powerful newspaper magnate and publisher. The film was accused of drawing remarkable, unflattering, and uncomplimentary parallels (especially in regards to the Susan Alexander Kane character) to real-life. The notorious battle was detailed in Thomas Lennon's and Michael Epstein's Oscar-nominated documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane (1996), and it was retold in HBO's cable-TV film RKO 281 (1999) (the film's title refers to the project numbering for the film by the studio, before the film was formally titled):

Similarities (and Some Differences) Between Kane and Hearst
Kane Hearst
Charles Foster Kane

William Randolph Hearst

Similarities with Jules Brulatour, millionaire head of distribution for Eastman Kodak and co-founder of Universal Pictures

New York Inquirer San Francisco Examiner, New York Journal
Multi-millionaire newspaper publisher, and wielder of public opinion, called "Kubla Khan" Same kind of press lord, "yellow journalist," and influential political figure
Political aspirant to Presidency by campaigning as independent candidate for New York State's Governor, and by marrying the President's niece, Emily Monroe Norton Political aspirant to Presidency by becoming New York State's Governor
Extravagant, palatial Florida mansion, Xanadu filled with art objects "The Ranch" palace at San Simeon, California, also with priceless art collection
Souring affair/marriage with talentless 'singer' Susan Alexander (the Hays Code wouldn't permit extra-marital affair)

(Difference: Susan Alexander suffers humiliating failure as opera singer, attempts suicide, separates from Kane)

A beloved mistress - a young, and successful silent film actress Marion Davies

(Difference: No breakdown in Davies' unmarried relationship with Hearst)

Similarities between mistress/wife Ganna Walska of Chicago heir Harold Fowler McCormick who bought expensive voice lessons for her and promoted her for the lead role in the production of Zaza at the Chicago Opera in 1920

Kane bought Susan an opera house, and although Susan said that her ambition was to be a singer, this career goal was mostly her mother's idea

Excessive patronage of Davies - Hearst bought Cosmopolitan Pictures - a film studio - to promote Davies' stardom as a serious actress, although she was better as a comedienne

Similarities between Chicago Utilities tycoon Samuel Insull who built the Chicago Civic Opera House in 1929 for his daughter

Character of Walter Parks Thatcher Similarities with financier J.P. Morgan
Character of Boss James 'Jim' W. Gettys Similarities with Tammany Hall (NYC) Boss Charles F. Murphy

The gossip columnist Louella Parsons persuaded her newspaper boss Hearst that he was being slandered by RKO and Orson Welles' film when it was first previewed, so the Hearst-owned newspapers (and other media outlets) pressured theatres to boycott the film and also threatened libel lawsuits. Hearst also ordered his publications to completely ignore the film, and not accept advertising for other RKO projects. However, the title character Charles Foster Kane is mostly a composite of any number of powerful, colorful, and influential American individualists and financial barons in the early 20th century (e.g., Time Magazine's founder and mogul Henry Luce, Chicago newspaper head Harold McCormick, and other magnates of the time). By contrast, the real-life Hearst was born into wealth, whereas Kane was of humble birth - the son of poor boarding-house proprietors. And Kane also was separated from both his mother and his mistress, unlike Hearst.

Welles' film was the recipient of nine Oscar nominations with only one win - Best Original Screenplay (Mankiewicz and Welles). The other eight nominations included Best Picture (Orson Welles, producer), Best Actor and Best Director (Welles), Best B/W Cinematography (Toland), Best Art Direction (Perry Ferguson and Van Nest Polglase), Best Sound Recording (John Aalberg), Best Dramatic Picture Score (Bernard Herrmann with his first brilliant musical score), and Best Film Editing (Robert Wise). With his four Academy Awards nominations, Welles became the first individual to receive simultaneous nominations in those four categories. The less-lauded John Ford picture How Green Was My Valley (1941) won the Best Picture honor.

Many of the performers from Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre group made their screen debuts in the film, among them Joseph Cotten (Kane's oldest and best friend, and his newspaper's drama critic), Dorothy Comingore (Kane's second wife), Ruth Warrick (Kane's first wife), Ray Collins (Kane's political opponent), Agnes Moorehead (Kane's mother), Everett Sloane (Kane's devoted and loyal employee and business manager), Erskine Sanford (the newspaper's editor-in-chief), Paul Stewart (Kane's butler), George Couloris (Kane's legal guardian and bank manager), and William Alland (the chief investigative reporter).

More importantly, the innovative, bold film is an acknowledged milestone in the development of cinematic technique, although it 'shared' some of its techniques from Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and other earlier films. It uses film as an art form to energetically communicate and display a non-static view of life. Its components brought together the following aspects:

* use of a subjective camera
* unconventional lighting, including chiaroscuro, backlighting and high-contrast lighting, prefiguring the darkness and low-key lighting of future film noirs
* inventive use of shadows and strange camera angles, following in the tradition of German Expressionists
* deep-focus shots with incredible depth-of field and focus from extreme foreground to extreme background (also found in Toland's earlier work in Dead End (1937), John Ford's The Long Voyage Home (1940), and Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940)) that emphasize mise-en-scene; also in-camera matte shots
* low-angled shots revealing ceilings in sets (a technique possibly borrowed from John Ford's Stagecoach (1939) which Welles screened numerous times)
* sparse use of revealing facial close-ups
* elaborate camera movements
* over-lapping, talk-over dialogue (exhibited earlier in Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940)) and layered sound
* the sound technique termed "lightning-mix" in which a complex montage sequence is linked by related sounds
* a cast of characters that ages throughout the film
* flashbacks, flashforwards and non-linear story-telling (used in earlier films, including another rags-to-riches tale starring Spencer Tracy titled The Power and the Glory (1933) with a screenplay by Preston Sturges, and RKO's A Man to Remember (1938) from director Garson Kanin and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo)
* the frequent use of transitionary dissolves or curtain wipes, as in the scene in which the camera ascended in the opera house into the rafters to show the workmen's disapproval of Mrs. Kane's operatic performance; also the famous 'breakfast' montage scene illustrating the disintegration of Kane's marriage in a brief time
* long, uninterrupted shots or lengthy takes of sequences

Its complex and pessimistic theme of a spiritually-failed man is told from several, unreliable perspectives and points-of-view (also metaphorically communicated by the jigsaw puzzle) by several different characters (the associates and friends of the deceased) - providing a sometimes contradictory, non-sequential, and enigmatic portrait. The film tells the thought-provoking, tragic epic story of a 'rags-to-riches' child who inherited a fortune, was taken away from his humble surroundings and his father and mother, was raised by a banker, and became a fabulously wealthy, arrogant, and energetic newspaperman. He made his reputation as the generous, idealistic champion of the underprivileged, and set his egotistical mind on a political career, until those political dreams were shattered after the revelation of an ill-advised 'love-nest' affair with a singer. Kane's life was corrupted and ultimately self-destructed by a lust to fulfill the American dream of success, fame, wealth, power and immortality. After two failed marriages and a transformation into a morose, grotesque, and tyrannical monster, his final days were spent alone, morose, and unhappy before his death in a reclusive refuge of his own making - an ominous castle filled with innumerable possessions to compensate for his life's emptiness.

The discovery and revelation of the mystery of the life of the multi-millionaire publishing tycoon is determined through a reporter's search for the meaning of his single, cryptic dying word: "Rosebud" - in part, the film's plot enabling device - or McGuffin (MacGuffin). However, no-one was present to hear him utter the elusive last word. The reporter looks for clues to the word's identity by researching the newspaper publisher's life, through interviews with several of Kane's former friends and colleagues. Was it a favorite pet or nickname of a lost love? Or the name of a racehorse? At film's end, the identity of "Rosebud" is revealed, but only to the film audience. [One source, Gore Vidal - a close friend of Hearst, wildly claimed in 1989 in a short memoir in the New York Review of Books that "Rosebud" was a euphemism for the most intimate part of his long-time mistress Marion Davies' female anatomy.]

And finally, the film's title has often been copied or mirrored, as a template for the titles of other biopics or documentaries about a figure often striving for socio-political recognition, as in the following films:

* Citizen Saint (1947) about modern miracle worker Mother Frances Cabrini
* Damn Citizen (1958) about a Louisiana state politician
* Citizen Tania (1989) - about heiress Patty Hearst's abduction by the Symbionese Liberation Army
* the HBO made-for-TV Citizen Cohn (1992) - about Senator Joseph McCarthy's loathsome lawyer Roy Cohn (James Woods) of the late 40s and 50s in the HUAC
* Citizen Langlois (1995, Fr.) about pioneering film archivist Henri Langlois of the Cinematheque Francaise - with some footage from the 1941 film
* Oliver Stone's epic biography Nixon (1995) could have been titled Citizen Nixon -- it's a modern-day 'Citizen Kane' story about another tragic figure, filmed in a disjointed, non-linear or non-chronological fashion (with unexpected flashbacks) and the use of newsreel footage as Welles did, and including an argument between Nixon and his wife at the dinner table - resembling the famed breakfast table scene in Citizen Kane; the famous 18 1/2 minute gap would serve as the enigmatic 'Rosebud'
* director Alexander Payne's debut film and political satire Citizen Ruth (1996) about Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern) - a pregnant woman caught as a pawn in the middle of the abortion rights issue
* Citizen James (2000) about a young Bronx filmmaker (writer/director/star Doug E. Doug)
* the TV series Citizen Baines (2001) about an ex-politician (James Cromwell) dealing with three grown daughters
* the documentary Citizen King (2004) - about Martin Luther King, Jr. originally made for PBS' American Experience series

The intriguing opening (a bookend to the film's closing prologue) is filled with hypnotic lap dissolves and camera movements from one sinister, mysterious image to the next, searching closer and closer and moving in. [The film's investigative opening, with the camera approaching closer and closer, may have been influenced by the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940). Both films open and close on a matted image of a mansion in the distance.] The film's first sight is a "No Trespassing" sign hanging on a giant gate in the night's foggy mist, illuminated by the moonlight. The camera pans up the chain-link mesh gate that dissolves and changes into images of great iron flowers or oak leaves on the heavy gate. On the crest of the gate is a single, silhouetted, wrought-iron "K" initial [for Kane]. The prohibitive gate surrounds a distant, forbidding-looking castle with towers. The fairy-tale castle is situated on a man-made mountain - it is obviously the estate of a wealthy man. [The exterior of the castle resembles the one in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).]

In a succession of views, the subjective and curious camera, acting omnisciently as it approaches toward the castle, violates the "No Trespassing" sign by entering the neglected grounds. In the private world of the castle grounds, zoo pens have been designed for exotic animals. Spider monkeys sit above a sign on one of the cages marked 'Bengal Tiger.' The prows of two empty gondolas are tied to a wooden wharf on a private lake, and the castle is reflected in the water. A statue of the Egyptian cat god stands before a bridge with a raised drawbridge/portcullis over a moat. A deserted green from the large golf course is marked with a sign needing repair (No. 16, 365 yards, Par 4). In the distance, a single, postage stamp-sized window of the castle is lit, always seen at approximately the same place in each frame. Palm trees surround a crumbling gate on the abandoned, cluttered grounds. The castle appears in a closer, medium shot. During an even closer shot of the window, the light within the window suddenly goes out. From an angle inside the turret room facing out of the enormous window, a silhouetted figure can be seen lying stiffly on a bed in the low-lit room.

The scene shifts to swirling snowflakes that fill the entire screen - here's another mysterious object that demands probing. The flakes surround a snow-covered house with snowmen around it, and in a quick pull-back, we realize it is actually a wintery scene inside a crystal glass globe or ball-paperweight in the grasping hand of an old man. [First Appearance of Glass Ball in Film] Symbolically, the individual's hand is holding the past's memories - a recollection of childhood life in a log cabin. [Psychoanalytically, the glass ball represents the mother's womb. Later in the film, it also is learned that the globe, associated with Susan, represents his first and only innocent love.]

The film's famous, first murmured, echoed word is heard uttered by huge, mustached rubbery lips that fill the screen:


[In reality, no one would have heard Kane's last utterance - in this scene, he is alone when he dies, although later in the film, Raymond the butler states that he heard the last word - a statement not completely reliable. It has been speculated that everything in the film was the dying man's dream -- and the burning of Rosebud in the film's climax was Kane's last conscious thought before death.] An old man has pronounced his last dying word as the snowstorm globe is released from his grip and rolls from his relaxed hand. The glass ball bounces down two carpeted steps and shatters into tiny pieces on the marble floor. [The film's flashbacks reveal that the shattering of the glass ball is indicative of broken love.] A door opens and a white-uniformed nurse appears on screen, refracted and distorted through a curve of a sliver of shattered glass fragment from the broken globe. In a dark silhouette, she folds his arms over his chest, and then covers him with a sheet. The next view is again the lit window viewed from inside. A dissolve fades to darkness.

In an abrupt cut from his private sanctuary, a row of flags is a backdrop for a dramatic, news-digest segment of News on the March! [a simulation/parody of the actual "March of Time" series produced by Time, Inc. and its founder Henry Luce beginning in the mid-30s]. The biopic film-in-a-film is a fact-filled, authoritative newsreel or documentary that briefly covers the chronological highlights of the public life of the deceased man. The faux newsreel provides a detailed, beautifully-edited, narrative-style outline and synopsis of Kane's public life, appearing authentically scratched, grainy and archival in some segments. The structure of the narrative in the newsreel is as follows:

* Information about Xanadu and its grandeur
* Kane's career (personal, political, and financial) - interwoven
* Thatcher's confrontation with Kane for the first time in the snow
* Chronological Account of Kane's life

The test screening of the first episode of the series is titled on the first panel, soon followed by the words of a portentous, paternalistic, self-important narrator:

Obituary: Xanadu's Landlord

An explanatory title card with the words of Coleridge's poem is imposed over views of Xanadu (actually a series of shots of San Simeon). Kane and his Xanadu is compared to the legendary Kubla Khan:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree - -

Narrator of Newsreel: Legendary was Xanadu where Kubla Khan decreed his stately pleasure dome. Today, almost as legendary is Florida's Xanadu, world's largest private [views of people lounge around Xanadu and its pool] pleasure ground. Here, on the deserts of the Gulf Coast [the camera views the coastline], a private mountain was commissioned and successfully built. [Workmen are shown building the tremendous castle] One hundred thousand trees, twenty thousand tons of marble are the ingredients of Xanadu's mountain. Contents of Xanadu's palace: [crates with statues and other objects are brought into Xanadu] paintings, pictures, statues, the very stones of many another palace - a collection of everything so big it can never be catalogued or appraised, enough for ten museums - the loot of the world. [views of endless numbers of crates arriving] Xanadu's livestock: [views of horses, giraffes, rare birds, a large octopus, an elephant, donkeys, etc.] the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea, the beast of the field and jungle. Two of each, the biggest private zoo since Noah. Like the pharaohs, Xanadu's landlord leaves many stones to mark his grave. Since the pyramids, Xanadu is the costliest monument a man has built to himself.

Another explanatory title card:

In Xanadu last week was held 1941's biggest strangest funeral.

Kane's coffin emerges from Xanadu as it is borne by coffin-bearers.

Narrator: Here in Xanadu last week, Xanadu's landlord was laid to rest, a potent figure of our century, America's Kubla Khan - Charles Foster Kane.

The newspaper headline of the New York Daily Inquirer appears with a picture of Kane:

Entire Nation Mourns Great Publisher as Outstanding American

The paper is removed and other headlines, set in different type and styles from around the nation and world, and with conflicting opinions about Kane, are revealed, announcing his death:

The Daily Chronicle: [note the negative headlines from the Inquirer's main business competitor]

C. F. Kane Dies at Xanadu Estate
Editor's Stormy Career Comes to an End
Death of Publisher Finds Few Who Will Mourn for Him

The Chicago Globe:

Policies Swayed World
Stormy Career Ends for "U.S. Fascist No. 1"

The Minneapolis Record Herald:

Publisher Gave Life to Nation's Service during Long Career

The San Francisco...


The Detroit Star:

Kane, Leader of News World, Called By Death at Xanadu
Was Master of Destiny

The El Paso Journal:

Editor Who Instigated "War for Profit" Is Beaten by Death

France's Le Matin:

Mort du grand Editeur C.F. Kane

Spain's El Correspendencia:

El Sr. Kane Se Murio!

Other foreign language newspapers (Russian and Japanese) also announce his death:

Ezhednevnaya Gazeta (Daily Newspaper)
Bednota ("The Impoverished")

S.F. Kan Velichaishij (C. F. Kane, the greatest)
Izdatel' Umer (publisher died)

Izdatel' Umer v Svoyei Usad'be ("Publisher died in his mansion")

The castle's owner is Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), publisher of the New York Inquirer:

Another title card:

To forty-four million U.S. news buyers, more newsworthy than the names in his own headlines, was Kane himself, greatest newspaper tycoon of this or any other generation.

Narrator: Its humble beginnings in this ramshackle building, a dying daily. [Views of the old Inquirer Building] Kane's empire in its glory [A picture of a US map shows circles widening out over it] held dominion over 37 newspapers, two syndicates, a radio network, an empire upon an empire. The first of grocery stores, paper mills, apartment buildings, factories, forests, ocean liners, [a sign reads COLORADO LODE MINE CO.] an empire through which for fifty years flowed in an unending stream the wealth of the earth's third richest gold mine. [Piles of gold bullion are stacked up and a highway sign reads, COLORADO STATE LINE] Famed in American legend [Kane Jr. is pictured with his mother in a framed portrait] is the origin of the Kane fortune, how to boarding house keeper Mary Kane [a view of Kane's old home, Mrs. Kane's Boarding House] by a defaulting boarder in 1868 was left the supposedly worthless deed to an abandoned mine shaft - the Colorado Lode. [A large bucket tilts, pouring molten ore into a mold] Fifty-seven years later, [A view of the Washington DC Capitol Building] before a Congressional investigation, Walter P. Thatcher, grand old man of Wall Street, for years chief target of Kane papers' attacks on trusts, recalls a journey he made as a youth.

In front of a Congressional investigating committee, Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris) recalls his journey in 1870 to Mrs. Kane's boarding house in Colorado, when he was asked to raise the young boy.

My firm had been appointed trustee by Mrs. Kane for a large fortune which she had recently acquired. It was her wish that I should take charge of this boy, this Charles Foster Kane.

Thatcher refuses to answer a Congressman's question (accompanied with laughter and confusion) about whether the boy personally attacked him after striking him in the stomach with a sled. Thatcher prefers to read a prepared statement of his opinion of Kane, and then refuses to answer any other questions:

Mr. Charles Foster Kane, in every essence of his social beliefs, and by the dangerous manner in which he has persistently attacked the American traditions of private property, initiative, and opportunity for advancement, is in fact, nothing more or less than a Communist!

That same month in New York's Union Square, where a crowd is urged to boycott Kane papers, an opinionated politician speaks:

The words of Charles Foster Kane are a menace to every working man in this land. He is today what he has always been - and always will be - a Fascist!

Narrator: And still, another opinion.

Kane orates silently into a radio microphone in front of a congratulatory, applauding crowd. A title card appears, a quote from Kane himself:

I am, have been, and will be only one thing - an American.

Another title card:

1895 to 1941
All of these years he covered, many of these he was.

Narrator: Kane urged his country's entry into one war [1898 - The Spanish-American War] - opposed participation in another [1919 - The Great War - an image of a cemetery with rows of white crosses] - swung the election to one American President at least [Kane is pictured on the platform of a train with Teddy Roosevelt] - spoke for millions of Americans, was hated by as many more. [an effigy, a caricature of Kane, is burned by a crowd] For forty years, appeared in Kane newsprint no public issue on which Kane papers took no stand, [Kane again appears with Roosevelt] no public man whom Kane himself did not support or denounce - often support [Kane is pictured with Hitler on a balcony], then denounce. [Kane never denounced - and then later supported any of his closest friends who argued with him, including his two wives, Leland and Thatcher. Because he held grudges, he couldn't easily find reconciliation.]

A title card:

Few private lives were more public.

Narrator: Twice married, twice divorced. [Kane and first wife Emily are dressed in wedding clothes, walking outside the White House] First to a president's niece, Emily Norton, who left him in 1916. [A newspaper article reads: "Family Greets Kane After Victory Speech" - his wife and young son are pictured with him outside Madison Square Garden] Died 1918 in a motor accident with their son. Sixteen years after his first marriage, two weeks after his first divorce, [At the Trenton Town Hall, newspaper reporters and photographers crowd around when Kane comes out with Susan] Kane married Susan Alexander, singer at the Town Hall in Trenton, New Jersey. [A poster from one of Susan's performances: "Lyric Theatre, On Stage, Suzan Alexander, Coming Thursday"] For Wife Two, one-time opera singing Susan Alexander, Kane built Chicago's Municipal Opera House. [The cover of an opera program: "Chicago Municipal Opera House presents Susan Alexander in Salammbo, Gala Opening" and a drawing of the Opera House] Cost: $3 million dollars. Conceived for Susan Alexander Kane, half finished before she divorced him, the still-unfinished Xanadu. Cost: No man can say.

A title card:

In politics - always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Narrator: Kane, molder of mass opinion though he was, in all his life was never granted elective office by the voters of his country. But Kane papers were once strong indeed, [a newspaper machine rolls newspapers through, EXTRA papers move upward] and once the prize seemed almost his. In 1916, as independent candidate for governor, [a view of a banner, KANE for GOVERNOR] the best elements of the state behind him, the White House seemingly the next easy step in a lightning political career, then suddenly, less than one week before election - defeat!...

An iris opens on the Daily Chronicle screaming the headline:

The Highly Moral Mr. Kane and his Tame "Songbird"
Entrapped by Wife as Love Pirate, Kane Refuses to Quit Race

...Shameful. Ignominious. Defeat that set back for twenty years the cause of reform in the U.S., [heart-shaped framed pictures of Kane and Susan are pictured in the newspaper] forever cancelled political chances for Charles Foster Kane. [A sign on a gate reads: FACTORY CLOSED, NO TRESPASSING] [1929] [Another sign reads: CLOSED] [The signs repeat the theme of closure/death from the film's opening shot.] Then, in the first year of the Great Depression, a Kane paper closes [On the St. Louis Daily Inquirer building hangs a CLOSED sign]. For Kane in four short years: collapse. [On a map of the US, the circles diminish, leaving only a few] Eleven Kane papers merged, more sold, scrapped.

A title card:

But America Still Reads Kane Newspapers and Kane Himself Was Always News.

In 1935, returning from Europe by ship, Kane is asked by the press (the reporter was an uncredited cameo role for cinematographer Gregg Toland) on arrival in New York harbor, about contemporary politics, and the "chances for war in Europe":

Reporter: Isn't that correct?
Kane: Don't believe everything you hear on the radio. [A sly reference to Welles' own infamous 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds that sent listeners into a panic.] Read the 'Inquirer'!
Reporter: How did you find business conditions in Europe?
Kane: How did I find business conditions in Europe, Mr. Bones? With great difficulty. (He laughs heartily)
Reporter: You glad to be back, Mr. Kane?
Kane: I'm always glad to be back, young man. I'm an American. Always been an American. (Sharply) Anything else? When I was a reporter, we asked them quicker than that. Come on, young fella.
Reporter: What do you think of the chances for war in Europe?
Kane (smugly): I've talked with the responsible leaders of the Great Powers - England, France, Germany, and Italy - they're too intelligent to embark on a project which would mean the end of civilization as we now know it. You can take my word for it. There'll be no war.

In the next newsreel clip, Kane is seen at a cornerstone ceremony, clumsily dropping mortar on himself from a trowel, and then brushing the dirt off his coat. At the center of the ceremony as he lays a cornerstone, but without his customary power, he is surrounded by workmen swinging hooks and cables around him.

Narrator: Kane helped to change the world, but Kane's world now is history. The great yellow journalist himself lived to be history. Outlived his power to make it...

Kane's final days are spent at the decaying Xanadu. He is seen in old age, sitting on a lounge chair by his pool. Then, he is pushed along and wheeled forward in a wheelchair, seen by a concealed camera peeping through a cross-barred fence [This referenced a famous shot in a newsreel called Munitions, showing a hidden camera view of an 85-year old arms czar Sir Basil Zaharoff getting wheeled to his train]:

...Alone in his never-finished, already decaying pleasure palace, aloof, seldom visited, never photographed, an emperor of new strength continued to direct his failing empire, varyingly attempted to sway as he once did the destinies of a nation that had ceased to listen to him, ceased to trust him. Then last week, as it must to all men, death came to Charles Foster Kane.

A moving electric sign wraps around the exterior of a New York building - this is the famed Times Square electronic news ticker. As it travels, it spells out the words:


The News on the March newsreel film abruptly ends, distorting the final moments of sound.

In the smoky projection room following the screening of the newsreel, the reporters are seen as sinister shadows striking up matches in the dark, with streams of light coming from the projection booth. [Both Joseph Cotten and future star Alan Ladd are momentarily visible in the shadowy scene.] The newsreel producer-editor Rawlston (Philip Van Zandt) is unsatisfied, speaking to the assembled group of reporters about the difficulty of getting seventy years of a man's life into a newsreel. He is disappointed because the empty newsreel doesn't have an angle and they are literally 'in the dark':

It isn't enough to tell us what a man did. You've got to tell us who he was.

Rawlston and the other reporters [viewed as anonymous, faceless individuals to 'mock' Henry Luce's staff of editors and journalists] then call to mind Kane's last word, searching for more beyond his public life, and trying to distinguish how he was different. Although Kane's character is elusive (e.g., he's an idealistic philanthropist and a materialistic egotist, and both "loved and hated"), his story is typically American: a rapid rise to fame and wealth, and a lonely decline in his failing years in his private residence - with a quick (inside joke) reference to Hearst included:

Maybe he told us all about himself on his deathbed...Yeah, maybe he didn't...All we saw on that screen was a big American...One of the biggest...But how is he any different from Ford? Or Hearst for that matter? Or John Doe...I'll tell ya, it comes from a man's dying words...What were they?...You don't read the papers...When Charles Foster Kane died, he said just one word -...Rosebud, just that one word, but who is she...What was it?...Here's a man that could have been president, who was as loved and hated and as talked about as any man in our time. But when he comes to die, he's got something on his mind called 'Rosebud.' Now what does that mean?...A racehorse he bet on once...Yeah, that didn't come in...All right, but what was the race?

While the newsreel is held up for one to two weeks, cinema newsreel reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) is sent out to discover the meaning of Kane's last word: "Rosebud," possibly a simple secret to Kane's mysterious, complex life. [The character of Thompson is never clearly visible or identified - he is always viewed in backlit silhouette, or from behind.] He is assigned to contact and interview as many of Kane's friends and associates as possible, who knew him over a two week period:

Get in touch with everybody that ever knew him, oh, knew him well...that manager of his, uh (snaps his fingers) - Bernstein - his second wife - she's still living...Susan Alexander Kane...She's running a nightclub in Atlantic City...See em all. Get in touch with everybody that ever worked for him, whoever loved him, whoever hated his guts. I don't mean go through the city directory, of course...Rosebud, dead or alive. It will probably turn out to be a very simple thing.

The structure of the film is not told as a traditional chronological story. Over a two week period, Thompson gathers information from four of Kane's associates and from some posthumous memoirs of Kane's ex-guardian. In a series of interlocked, semi-overlapping flashbacks and tightly-woven, personal vignettes, each of Kane's closest associates gives a different, slightly prejudiced, contradictory and inconsistent account of the Kane they knew, revealing different facets of a single personality:

* legal guardian and bank manager Thatcher (written memoirs)
* deferential personal manager/business partner Bernstein
* best friend Leland
* ex-wife Susan, Kane's second wife
* Raymond, the butler

The film essentially asks, 'how do we interpret a life?' - similar to the question filmviewers ask about Citizen Kane, 'how can we understand this film?'

Each of the five sources from which the dogged reporter receives his information serve to introduce six separate sections of the remainder of the film. The sections are not structured chronologically, yet they progressively follow the memories of Kane's life in logical stages. At the conclusion of the non-traditional, non-linear narrative, it is concluded that none of them know the implications or meaning of the word 'Rosebud' - a possible clue to the meaning of his life.

First Interview with Kane's ex-wife Susan Kane:

(1) In a striking movement after Rawlston's last words ("...a very simple thing"), the camera first views a close-up billboard picture of a provocative blonde woman - punctuated by a flash of lightning and thunderclap during a pouring thunderstorm. It then swoops up to the building's flashing neon sign announcing the tawdry woman's El Rancho floor show performance:

Floor Show
Twice Nightly

Then, in a startling, prying movement (a spectacular crane shot), the subjective camera breaks through the sign and into the broken skylight on the building's roof and then moves down to a table inside the El Rancho Nightclub. [The nightclub roof and skylight is only a model, while the interior of the nightclub is a real film set.]

Underneath the skylight in an enclosed space, there's a seedy Atlantic City cabaret below, where showgirl Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore) sits with her head bowed drunkenly on her arms resting on the table. A lone, sordid figure, she appears lost in her memories. She is drinking heavily by herself and very uncooperative. Thompson makes an attempt to interview her, but she will not talk to him in his first visit:

Susan: Who told you you could sit down?
Thompson: I thought maybe we could have a talk together.
Susan: Well, think again. Why don't you people leave me alone? I'm minding my own business. You mind yours...Get out of here. Get out! (hysterically)

The head nightclub waiter/captain John (Gus Schilling) brings her a mixed drink and then attempts to soften the rebuke and explain her mourning: "She just won't talk to nobody, Mr. Thompson...She'll snap out of it. Why, 'til he died, she'd just as soon talk about Mr. Kane as about anybody." After calling in to Rawlston on the phone (in a phone booth) to tell his chief that the second Mrs. Kane "won't talk," Thompson asks the waiter whether Mrs. Kane ever mentioned 'Rosebud.' After pocketing a bill to make him talk, the waiter remarks that he had asked her the same question when Kane's death hit the papers, and she responded: "She never heard of Rosebud." The scene fades quickly to black.

[Thompson speaks to Susan Kane a second time later in the film.]

The Memoirs of Walter Parks Thatcher, Kane's Legal Guardian and Bank Manager:

(2) With a stale, flat sounding note (emphasizing the headwaiter's previous comment), the camera shoots up at a statue of the late Walter Parks Thatcher, a J. P. Morgan-like figure and Kane's Wall Street financier and guardian. [This second scene, like the one just before it, is introduced by a representation or image of the character - previously a flimsy billboard of Susan, now a solid marble statue of Thatcher.] The statue's base is inscribed with the words:


The camera pans down the statue and 'wipes' into the austere Walter Parks Thatcher Memorial Library in Philadelphia, where Thompson visits. [The statue is, in fact, only a drawing. From there, the camera invisibly 'wipes' into the next image - the set of the library.]

At a desk, a mannish, stern and severe-looking librarian instructs him about the restricted use of Thatcher's unpublished memoirs. The sound of Thompson's footsteps echo through the marble halls of the mausoleum-like building as he is led to one of the reading room vaults (resembling a bank vault). Shafts of dusty sunlight pierce the room, as in the earlier projection room. A guard removes one of the revered volumes - a diary - and bears it in his arms toward Thompson. There, sitting at a long table, Thompson is confined to inspecting pp. 83-142, the pertinent parts of Thatcher's manuscripts-diaries-journals. He is also told that he must leave at 4:40 pm sharp. The door closes shut on the face of the subjective camera (imprisoning it and Thompson himself). Then a dissolve moves beyond the door and moves to peer over Thompson's shoulder at the pages of the book.

Thatcher's words in the memoirs are viewed in gigantic, handwritten black script on the white page in a camera pan from left to right:

I first encountered Mr. Kane in 1871.

The white margin of the page suddenly becomes a blank white page - and then dissolves into a snowy scene - a 'living memory' of what exists on the page. It's a surprising flashback to young eight-year-old Charles' (Buddy Swan) boyhood and humble beginnings on a farm in Little Salem, Colorado. Outside in a long shot, young Charles is sledding alone on a hillside in the snow. He throws a snowball at the sign on the top of the rustic wooden building - the snowball smashes against the letters that read "MRS. KANE'S BOARDING HOUSE." (His mother Mary (Agnes Moorehead), proprietress of the lonely, run-down, wooden boarding house, becomes unexpectedly wealthy when seemingly worthless mining stock certificates given her by a poor prospector/boarder in lieu of payment make her the sole owner of one of the world's great gold mines, the Colorado Lode.)

Just before being sent away, in one of the memorable deep-focus shots of the film in the famous boarding house scene, the camera moves from outside and pulls back through the window of the rural boarding house where his mother (on the left) admonishes him not to catch cold: "Be careful, Charles, pull your muffler round your neck, Charles." The camera tracks back as she turns, and states: "I'll sign those papers now, Mr. Thatcher," and then walks the length of the wood-paneled parlor with Thatcher into the adjoining room. She moves to the center of the frame, obscuring the view of the window (and her son). [If one watches carefully, the camera moves right through where the table is located in the room, before coming to rest. Later, when the camera follows and tracks Mrs. Kane back to the window after she has signed the legal papers, it appears that she walks 'through' where the table was positioned.]

Inside the cabin, the camera remains stationary at the table where they negotiate Charles' future. With Kane's rustic, "uneducated" father anxiously haranguing them on the left of the frame (complaining: "You people seem to forget that I'm the boy's father...I don't hold with signing my boy away to any bank as guardeen..."), well-dressed Thatcher officiously sits next to Mrs. Kane on the right (in close-up) as she signs legal papers to appoint Thatcher as Charles' guardian. The boy can be seen as a tiny figure (and heard yelling "The Union forever!") playing with his sled in the snow through the distant window in the center of the frame. The boy's stern, emotionally-controlled mother gives her child up and signs the papers.

She appoints the banking firm of Thatcher and Company to manage all her financial interests, to administer her estate, and to act as trustees of the fortune and guardian of her son. Mr. and Mrs. Kane will each be given $50,000 a year - the rest of the fortune will be placed in a trust fund for Charles until he reaches maturity at age 25, at which time he would come into complete possession.

Rather than remaining there, Charles is traumatically uprooted from his mother - a scene wrought with Oedipal meaning. His subsequent life is forever influenced by this separation and void in his life. Outside, the boy is in front and center in the frame next to his mother, with Mr. Thatcher, his new legal guardian and surrogate father, half-obscured behind Mrs. Kane. Mr. Kane is far in the background (insignificantly positioned). Thatcher attempts to shake the boy's hand:

Why, we're going to have some fine times together, really we are, Charles. Now, shall we shake hands? (Charles pulls back) Oh, come, come, come, I'm not as frightening as all that, am I? Now, what do you say? Let's shake.

Upset and reluctant to leave, the bratty boy violently rams Thatcher with his sled and then is struck by his father. He glares knowingly at Thatcher, aware that he is being taken away from his innocent childhood and mother - sent east to be cultured, educated and raised under Thatcher's stern guidance. After he has departed, the camera shot dissolves to a long-held closeup of Charles' abandoned sled on a snowbank - it is gradually covered by a cold snowfall - a preserved (and buried) symbol of vanished innocence, loss and purity. Significantly, the name of the sled - Rosebud - is completely obscured - although it is symbolic of the 'cold' life where Charles will be taken. A train whistle is heard leaving town, symbolic of his unhappy transfer to Chicago.

[The scene in the glass paperweight is of a cottage in a snowstorm, strikingly similar to Mrs. Kane's Boarding House of Charles' youth.]

Through a quick-cut edit/dissolve from the white snow scene to white wrapping paper in a Victorian-style Christmas celebration scene, Charles opens a present in front of his guardian's Christmas tree - it is a replacement sled for the one left behind. [This sled is named "Crusader" and is emblazoned with a decorative helmet of a medieval knight. It is NOT the same sled that burns in the furnace at the film's conclusion - the "Rosebud" sled embossed with a rose.] Thatcher wishes the young Kane "Merry Christmas..." The young boy snarls back: "Merry Christmas," obviously unsatisfied by the present and making life miserable for Thatcher. Thatcher continues his sentence decades later (in a "lightning mix" - two scenes connected by the soundtrack but not by the visual images) "...and a happy New Year" just before his protege's 25th birthday. [This filmic technique is also called a 'flash-forward' in time.]

Having reached legal maturity, and with the proper background and training to manage his acquired wealth, the full estate becomes his and he acquires control. Thatcher dictates a memo to that effect: "...may I again remind you that your twenty-fifth birthday which is now approaching marks your complete independence from the firm of Thatcher and Company as well as the assumption by you of full responsibility for the world's sixth-largest private fortune."

In a memorable scene, Kane responds in a manner counter to Thatcher's wishes, interested in taking charge of only one small part of his holdings:

Sorry but I'm not interested in gold mines, oil wells, shipping or real estate...One item on your list intrigues me, the New York Inquirer, a little newspaper I understand we acquired in a foreclosure proceeding. Please don't sell it. I'm coming back to America to take charge. I think it would be fun to run a newspaper. I think it would be fun to run a newspaper. Grrr.

Soon, Kane uses the paper to attack trusts, Thatcher and others among America's financial elite. Headlines of the Inquirer blare out the expose in a montage of early Inquirer newspaper headlines: "TRACTION TRUST EXPOSED," "TRACTION TRUST BLEEDS PUBLIC WHITE," and "TRACTION TRUST SMASHED BY INQUIRER." Other social causes are heralded by the paper: "LANDLORDS REFUSE TO CLEAR SLUMS!!," and "INQUIRER WINS SLUM FIGHT." The paper also attacks capitalistic Wall Street itself: "WALL STREET BACKS COPPER SWINDLE!!" and "COPPER ROBBERS INDICTED!"

Thatcher is enraged and indignantly confronts the young publisher in the Inquirer office about his newspaper's criticism of banks, privilege and corruption. Kane is seated at his desk facing the camera and sipping coffee as Thatcher stands over him with his back to the camera asking: "Is that really your idea of how to run a newspaper?" Arrogantly but with a soft-spoken voice, Kane replies:

I don't know how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher. I just try everything I can think of.

Thatcher explodes at him, accusing him of following a radical policy at the paper of concocting stories: "You know perfectly well there's not the slightest proof that this Armada is off the Jersey coast." Kane is informed by his assistant Bernstein (Everett Sloane) that a correspondent named Wheeler in Cuba has sent a communique: "Girls delightful in Cuba stop. Could send you prose poems about scenery but don't feel right spending your money stop. There is no war in Cuba. Signed, Wheeler." Kane calmly tells his assistant to answer the war correspondent [a dictation that echoes one of William Randolph Heart's most famous quotes in the yellow press to artist Frederic Remington regarding the 1896 Spanish-American War]: " provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war."

Soon, Thatcher sits down and Kane explains how he is really "two people" - he is both a major stockholder in the Public Transit (he owns "eighty-two thousand, three hundred and sixty-four shares of Public Transit Preferred"), a trust he is attacking, and the dutiful publisher of a newspaper representing the interests of the public against the trust. Kane stands up by the end of the scene, towering over Thatcher, explaining:

It's also my pleasure to see to it that decent, hard-working people in this community aren't robbed blind by a pack of money-mad pirates, just because they haven't had anybody to look after their interests...If I don't look after the interests of the underprivileged, maybe somebody else will, maybe somebody without any money or property...and that would be too bad!

Thatcher reminds Kane that his philanthropic paper is losing a million dollars a year. Kane blithely jokes that "at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place - in sixty years."

The next scene is "in the winter of year 1929" (at the start of the Great Depression after the Crash), much earlier than the predicted year for the demise of the paper. [The year is seen in an enlarged script, black on blinding white, as the camera pans from left to right over a handwritten sentence in a document.] Kane's general business manager Bernstein reads a typed statement regarding the newspaper - Kane "relinquishes all control thereof...and agrees to abandon all claims..." In the scene once composed, Thatcher sits to the left, with Bernstein on the right, while Kane forms the apex of the three in the shot. [Welles introduces each character in the scene one by one. First, only Bernstein is in the scene, then Thatcher is added - when Bernstein lowers his paper, and then Kane walks into the scene from the right.]

Emphasizing his ignominious fall and subsequent dependency, Kane interrupts the reading while walking away into the distant background in the middle of the shot - to stand before what first appears to be a normal-sized window. He acknowledges that the paper is bankrupt by saying, "which means we're bust." In a deep-focus, depth-of-field shot that fools the eye about the size and scale of the window in view, Kane stands under the huge, high window with his back to the proceedings in his cavernous office - his diminished size symbolizes his great loss. [The shot recalls another scene earlier in the film, when young Kane is in the distance in the outdoor snow, and his mother signs an agreement with Thatcher inside their cabin.]

Thatcher takes over much of Kane's power and control of his newspaper holdings in the name of the bank. Thatcher criticizes Kane's methods: "You never made a single investment, always used money to..." Giving himself an honest appraisal, Kane finishes the sentence while he signs the papers to give away his newspapers: buy things. Buy things. My mother should have chosen a less reliable banker. Well, I always gagged on that silver spoon.

[This is Kane's first of only two mentions of his own mother in the film.] Then, he congratulates himself in a remark directed at Bernstein: "You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man...I think I did pretty well under the circumstances." But it is Thatcher who responds: "What would you like to have been?" Kane shows his contempt for Thatcher in his brooding answer, implying that he has turned into something like Thatcher himself: "Everything you hate!"

The scene returns to the Thatcher library, where Thompson is told that his time is up for the day. The attendant asks if he has found what he was looking for in his "very rare privilege" at the library. Thompson, of course, replies that he has not, and then impulsively and playfully asks her: "You're not Rosebud, are you?"

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